A local

A local's guide to walking Hadrian's Wall

Kate Atkin 15 March 2023

Surrounded by landscapes steeped in Roman history, Northumberland’s Hadrian's Wall and the neighbouring historic towns of Hexham and Corbridge will never disappoint! There’s so much to see and do in this area that you’ll need more than just a day to explore. Perhaps visit over a long weekend or as a family during school holidays, such as February half-term. Whether you’ve spent a morning learning about Hexham’s history or an afternoon walking Hadrian’s wall, our Hadrian's Wall holiday cottages will help to ensure you get the rest you deserve when night falls.

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A whistle-stop history of Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most famous Roman ruins in Northern Europe. Stretching 80 Roman miles from coast to coast, this ancient edifice is one of the region's best-loved and most popular visitor attractions.  It has a rich and varied history, with lots of detail to cover so here we’ve compiled an easy guide to answer all of your burning questions about Hadrian’s Wall:

What is Hadrian's Wall? 

Hadrian's Wall is a manmade wall which has become one of the largest historical remnants of Roman life in Northern Europe. It was built to create a border between Scotland and England which was fought over for centuries to come. It took about 14 years to complete and is the largest structure ever made by the Romans. There are 14 forts and many more castles along its length. It was made a World Heritage Site in 1987.

It was built to create a border between the Romans and the Pictish tribes in Scotland. It allowed the Romans to control the movements of people coming into, or leaving, Roman Britain.

Where is Hadrian's Wall? 

You will find Hadrian's Wall near the border between modern-day Scotland and England. It runs in an east-west direction from Wallsend and Newcastle on the River Tyne in the east, to Bowness-on-Solway and Solway Firth in the west. Parts of it are easily accessed when staying in Northumberland.

Who built Hadrian's Wall? 

The wall was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in 122AD. It was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. It is a masterpiece of Roman legendary masons, with the assistance of auxiliary soldiers providing labour and transport of supplies to the construction areas.

Hadrian's Wall was built in 122 AD.

How long is Hadrian's Wall?

The wall is 73 miles long, and although it is no longer fully intact, and certainly not as high as it once was, it is thought that Hadrian’s Wall was once 15 feet high and 3 feet wide. Keen walkers could probably walk the whole of the wall in six or seven days!

What did Hadrian's Wall look like?

Based on the Roman ruins that remain along the wall and at other locations around Britain, we can be fairly sure that the wall would have been crenelated with merlons, allowing Roman archers to perch and defend, as can be seen on the image below of the reconstruction fort at Vindolanda.

Designed to be 3m wide, the wall also had a large ditch and mound in front of it to make it difficult for invaders to climb the wall. Based on other artefacts it it thought that the wall would have had some more artistic flourishes to decorate it, such as on the plinths seen at the Temple of Mithras. 

The wall was devalued in AD138 when Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius decided to build his own frontier, the lesser-known turf fortification, The Antonine Line further north.

Scenic spots and things to do along Hadrian’s Wall

Not only is Hadrian's Wall a site of immense history, it's also a great day out! With lots of beautiful spots to set up a picnic or take a few snapshots, and a number of interesting circular walks which weave between the Roman ruins along the wall. You're sure to find something to find something to please every generation here.

Sycamore Gap

Perhaps one of the most photographed trees in the country, Sycamore Gap sits in a visually pleasing dip along Hadrian’s Wall, balancing this beautiful tree against its landscape. Sycamore Gap is so special that in 2016 it was awarded English Tree of the Year by the Woodland Trust.

Visitors will also find Castle Nick, or Roman Milecastle 39, just to the left of Sycamore Gap. This site has been excavated a few times over the years, mostly recently in 1987. There have been some interesting finds, including a stone oven, and the artefacts suggest that the milecastle was occupied until the late 4th century, though in the 18th century it was briefly used as a milking house.

Keep an eye out for the circular wall which surrounds a much smaller sycamore tree nearby. Sycamore Gap's custodians have had the great idea of planting for the future, and the wall is a defensive attempt against the local sheep!

Temple of Mithras

Outside the Carrawburgh Roman Fort stands the intriguing Roman ruins of the Temple of Mithras. Built by the soldiers stationed at Carrawburgh to venerate the god Mithras, who according to legend captured and killed a sacred bull in a cave. Subsequent temples often tried to evoke this story in their design, and this one is a good example, and offers an intriguing insight into the religious beliefs of the people at the time. It is thought that the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh was built around 200AD and destroyed around 350AD. 

Vindolanda and Housesteads Roman Fort

Vindolanda is an active archaeological base along the Hadrian's Wall UNESCO site and important work is done here to examine and in some cases reconstruct the history of this site. Vindolanda pre-dates Hadrian's Wall and as a fort was used to guard the Stanegate Roman Road which ran from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth in Cumbria. Most famously, Vindolanda was the origin of the Vindolanda tablets,  a set of wooden tablets which are the oldest handwritten documents to have been uncovered in Britain. Other discoveries have been made, including Roman boxing gloves discovered in 2017 as well as a number of different swords, textiles and a 5th century chalice featuring images of a priest holding a crook. 

Visitors can explore some of the artefacts uncovered here in the Vindolanda Museum, which is housed in a reconstruction temple and showcases examples of a Roman shop and house, as well as a traditional Northumbrian croft. Some exhibits include Roman coins, jewellry, shoes, armour and a small selection of the Vindolanda Tablets on loan from the British Museum where the other tablets are on exhibit.

It's also well worth a short journey onto Housesteads Roman Fort, another key base along Hadrian's Wall. It's different to Vindolanda because at Housesteads not only can you wander the ruins of the barrack blocks, but you can also explore a former hospital and catch a glimpse of some truly ancient toilets! Children will enjoy their chance to run around this 5 acre site, and why not take them to the museum to try on a replica Roman soldier's uniform? 

Chesters Roman Fort

Chesters Roman Fort is one of the most intact Roman cavalry forts remaining in Britain, and was once the most northerly outpost of the Holy Roman Empire. It is home to a stunning Roman boathouse, which would have been a tranquil riverside spot on the North Tyne banks where soldiers could come to unwind and socialise in the steam baths. 

Chesters Roman Fort is a great place to stop for a picnic to refuel as you explore Hadrian's Wall, or pick up a trail guide on your way in to learn more about a typical day in the life of a soldier during the Roman era.

To continue your adventure here, it's a good idea to take advantage of the 2.5 mile circular walk through the picturesque village of Humshaugh which takes in the beautiful landscape of the area.

Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre and the Roman Army Museum

The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre is another great stop along Hadrian's Wall and will delight all generations with its range of exhibits. Come here to learn about the origins of the Northumberland National Park, the literature inspired by the wildlife of this area, or even take one of the Sill's guided tours of Hadrian's Wall. The Sill itself is an architecturally interesting building, and has a shop selling the best of the local area's produce and crafts. 

There’s a great circular walk here too which passes Housesteads Roman Fort and Vindolanda. The discovery centre has a great café, ideal for refuelling afterwards.

Head 6 miles down the road towards Brampton to the Roman Army museum where you can learn all there is to know about the life of a Roman soldier, and what life would have been like in Roman Britain under the emperor Hadrian.

Neighbouring Towns and Villages

Given the long history of Hadrian's Wall, there are a number of  towns and villages nearby that have built upon these origins and flourished into brilliant modern towns and villages. Offering a perfect mix of restaurants and shops, with historic sites and beautiful natural spots, the towns and villages surrouding Hadrian's Wall are a great way to explore what Northumberland has to offer. 


The popular and attractive riverside market town of Hexham is rich in history, dating back to the 1300s when the Vikings came a-calling! Located on the south banks of the River Tyne in beautiful Hadrian’s Wall country, Hexham's town centre boasts picturesque winding streets, with the remarkable Hexham Abbey at its hub. 

With an array of parks scattered throughout the charming town, galleries aplenty, a raft of outdoor activities and a number of historical sites waiting to be explored, there’s no shortage of things to do in Hexham. There is also a superb range of shops, restaurants, bars, bistros and coffee houses when you need to refuel. Also, to replenish the larder and fridge, head to the town’s farmers’ markets where you can easily stock up local produce and crafted goods. These take place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month.


If you like arts and culture you can visit Queen’s Hall Arts Centre for live theatre, music, dance and art exhibitions. If you fancy a flutter, head to Hexham Racecourse, which is a fun day out for all the family. It is one of the most scenic racecourses in the country. The nearby River Tyne is something of a fishing and angling hot spot; it is known as the best salmon and sea trout river in England and Wales. If you love the quiet, bring your rod and tackle and spend some quality time here.


The much-loved and unspoilt town of Corbridge, located about 18 miles to the west of Newcastle upon Tyne, is beautifully situated in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country. The town’s own history dates back to Saxon times and the Romans once based one of their garrisons here while their soldiers were manning the wall. 


In addition to all its fascinating history, Corbridge is also full of real Northumbrian charm and attractive stone-built properties. You are bound to love exploring the range of independent shops and boutiques, coffee houses and popular eateries in the pretty main streets that make up the town. Thanks to its agricultural events, country fairs and shows, the village attracts a huge number of tourists every year.

Arguably the best reason for visiting Corbridge is the chance to visit the remains of Corbridge Roman town. Once a central hub for picking up provisions and where civilians and soldiers lived, the town thrived right up until the fall of the Roman empire during the 5th century. Today, you can still walk the streets of Corbridge Roman Town and view Roman armour and artefacts uncovered with the Corbridge Hoard at the on-site museum. The hoard is one of the most significant Roman-era discoveries, affording you an insight into the life of a soldier who would have defended Hadrian’s and the Antonine Wall. The museum is also home to the Corbridge Collection, the largest of the Hadrian's Wall's collections.

Aydon Castle

Around a mile from Corbridge is Aydon Castle, a lovely location for a family day out and if the weather’s good we recommend brining a picnic to take advantage of this special spot! Virtually intact, it is a wonderful example of a 13th-century manor house located in deep woodland. It survived a sacking during a period of Anglo-Scottish warfare but it was partially restored and was used as a farmhouse in the 17th century and a family residence up until 1966. It is now managed by English Heritage. Keen film fans may recognise it from the 1998 film ‘Elizabeth,’ starring Cate Blanchett.

Stay in a Hadrian's Wall cottage

If you have been inspired to visit these picturesque towns in Hadrian’s Wall Country, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages in Northumberland and start planning your next holiday. Here are some of our favourites:

Or why not view the full collection of holiday homes dotted along Hadrian's Wall?

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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